After months of anticipation, President Donald Trump will officially declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency Thursday afternoon. The president first pegged widespread addiction to opioids as a cause for concern in August.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” Trump said to a gaggle of reporters before a security briefing in New Jersey.
Hesitation for the declaration came rumbling from within Trump's own party, with former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price believing that an official declaration would do little to advance the efforts to combat opioids.
“We believe that at this point, the resources that we need or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crises can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency,” Price said in August.
Though the White House commission tasked to investigate the opioid problem, spearheaded by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, pushed against Price's assertion, urging the president to take bold action.
“The first and most urgent recommendation of this commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency,” Christie said in the commission's report earlier this year.
Opioid addiction will join the 28 current official national emergencies, most of which focus on international diplomacy or matters of security, not public health. The active national emergencies date back to 1979 and include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the war in Iraq and the 9/11 terror attacks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 183,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids like methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone since 1999. Six states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia — have declared a national emergency over the opioid crisis starting in June 2014.
Since the initial remarks, the administration has offered little insight into the specific initiatives the administration hopes to take on combatting opioid addiction. When pressed for more information during Tuesday's daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president and his advisers are diligently working toward a solution but offered nothing more.
The president seems to think Thursday's speech, which will be delivered in the White House, will be enough to get the ball rolling on widespread reform, treatment, and a potential cure.
Typically used to administer short-term aide, declarations of national emergency can allow for the funneling of federal aide to states that are in desperate need for resources. However, the effects this declaration will have on providing sustained relief is still murky.
"When it comes to opioids, it’s really unclear,” Michael Fraser, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health, told The New York Times in August.
This would be the first national emergency declared under the Trump Administration; former President Barack Obama declared 12.